Negotiations update – 11/29/12

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You’ve certainly seen, and hopefully are wearing, a Respect button; within the next few days we’ll have Respect signs for your doors.  These buttons and signs beg the question - what does RESPECT mean to you?  What does RESPECT mean in our workplace?  For months now, your negotiating team has been working to translate respect into concrete contract language.  

As we discuss the more challenging issues, we continue to see that the administrative team doesn’t always have a clear understanding of the work faculty do, or the degree to which our work is essential to maintain quality programs and provide students with an outstanding education.  On many occasions we have felt they lack respect for our work.

A case in point is faculty program coordination.  The administration would like to eliminate the current standard one year appointment period and emphasize the option of quarterly appointments; shorter appointments create more instability for the program and students (along with more paperwork) - it’s hard to imagine how such a change would be beneficial, and yet it’s what they have proposed.  They would also like to specify that dismissal criteria pertain to faculty program coordinators, stating that they need a more clear process for dismissal on those occasions when a coordinator is not fulfilling their responsibilities.

Those changes, along with comments and the tenor of the conversation at the table, suggest a lack of respect for the work program coordinators do and the faculty that fill those roles.  Faculty expertise is core to fulfillment of the district’s mission, and rather than acknowledging that, the administration is unnecessarily focused on coordinators who don’t fulfill their responsibilities - as if that is a rampant problem, as opposed to the very real problem of too much work, for too few people and for too low a wage.  

On the positive side, admin is willing to more clearly define the boundaries of the role and the factors used to assess the appropriate number of hours needed to fulfill the responsibilities.

Another example of a lack of understanding of our work is related to our proposal to add 6 new tenure track positions in each of the next couple of years.  Supposedly, the administration supports the concept of a high full-time to part-time ratio.  Their counter-proposal of only two new positions in each of the next two years suggests otherwise.  Worse, however, is their reaction to our counter - whereas originally we mutually defined this as a medium difficulty issue, they decided to redefine it as most difficult as well as tie it to workload equity and/or the stipend rate.  Their comment that more full-time faculty will reduce workload and therefore, increasing full-time positions should be linked to compensation, ignores the fact that a 4% increase in full-time positions will have a negligible impact on the workload of the rest of the full-time faculty (especially since additional tenure committees will be needed) and fails to recognize that by and large, faculty have picked up additional workload resulting from retirements, increased assessment and accreditation requirements, and decreases in both classified staff and administrators.  Moreover, we aren’t proposing a general salary increase; we’ve focused very narrowly on workload equity and the stipend rate, our proposal for which we’ve now dropped to $47/hour.  It’s outrageous that they have opted to use the supposed shared goal of improving our full-time to part-time ratio as leverage against improving compensation in the limited ways we’re proposing.  Does this demonstrate respect?  I think not.

As you know, a new faculty evaluation process has been under construction for months.  We’ve moved from proposing a more comprehensive process that starts earlier for part-time faculty to a more modest proposal; for some reason, the district isn’t interested in specifying the role of peer observation and other professional development activities as a way of supporting and developing new faculty; they want to retain the requirement that part-time faculty are evaluated by the seventh quarter as opposed to ensuring evaluation by the fourth quarter.  

Another change administration would like to see is related to faculty evaluating faculty.  We have been reluctant to open the door to this, and at the same time, recognize that accreditation in some professional/technical programs calls for this practice.  The concern we have brings us back to the faculty program coordinator role.  Unfortunately, too many faculty have been under the impression that the coordinator is their supervisor and in control of course assignments - sometimes the coordinator does have undue influence, leaving other faculty outside the decision-making process.  The clear language defining the boundaries of the coordinator role should help with this problem; it is also the faculty coordinator’s role to refrain from a supervisory relationship with colleagues - even when asked to do so by the unit administrator.  So back to evaluation, any language allowing faculty evaluation of other faculty must protect against these kinds of problems.

Accreditation also recommends that administration have access to the primary data of faculty evaluations.  Non ph part-time and tenure track faculty already submit all student evaluations; it seems a reasonable condition for priority hire and tenured faculty, as long as we specify a trigger for such a request and the period of time we must keep them.

Curiously, while faculty currently have the option of creating their own course evaluation forms, the district would like to require the unit admin’s approval of these individualized course evaluations - their rationale for this is unclear why, but it feels like a lack of respect.

And finally, workload equity.  The district has provided us with an analysis of the cost for equalizing workload, which we all know is high.  The price tag for changing the ABE/ESL workload to 15 credits would be over $2 million.  That means we have to get creative!  At the table we have discussed pursuing a special state allocation and your team is still looking at options for incremental progress.  Your input and ideas are needed and welcome.

As I’ve said all along, significant progress in negotiations requires more than six faculty sitting at the table, regardless of how committed to the task we are.  It requires that you speak to the issues that matter to them, participate in the process and symbolically stand with the team.  So, what can you do?

  • sign up to observe on the 30th, 7th, or 14th;
  • wear blue on Fridays;
  • put a RESPECT sign on your door and wear a button - you can get them from your senate president;
  • talk to your colleagues and unit administrator about the issues
  • And attend the All Faculty Meeting on the 7th, 6-9 p.m. at the Labor Temple.  In addition to hearing more about negotiations, you’ll have the chance to hear from and speak to some of our local legislators.

Our hope is that we can get close to agreement with the administration on a contract we can present to you for ratification in January.  Watch for another negotiations update after our session on the 14th.

Karen Strickland, AFT Seattle President